Hereford Library Users' Group

Meeting Museum Resource Centre 29 January 2016

Meeting on Jan 29th 2016 held at the Museum Resource Centre 6.00pm.

Panel: Mr. J. Norman MP Chairman – first half of meeting.

                Mr. J.B.L. Faulkner Chairman HLUG, Chairman – second half of meeting

                Mr. J. Hitchin Secretary HLUG.

                Lady Jan Falkiner JAHL representative

                Mr. W. McMorran Architect of Architectonicus Ltd.

                Cllr. P. Morgan Deputy Leader Herefordshire Council.

                Cllr. A. Powers Herefordshire Council

The meeting was held to present the HLUG proposals for the modification of the Broad Street library which had been developed following the invitation by the Herefordshire Council Cabinet to HLUG to submit their ideas and whether they were willing to cooperate with the Council in their possible development. The submission was due at the end of February.

The meeting was so well attended that several members of the public had to stand at the back. It is estimated that about one hundred people were present.

Among those present were representatives of:

                Rural Media Ltd.,

                The Woolhope Naturalists Club,

                The Museum and Art galleries,

                Friends of Leominster and other libraries,

                Mrs N. Silver, Assistant Director, Communities, Herefordshire Council, and

                Staff of Herefordshire Libraries,

                Community organisations

                Local businesses.

                Hereford Civic Society

Mr. Norman alluded to the present uncertainty affecting Library Services throughout the U.K. and in particular to the difficulties besetting Hereford’s Broad Street building, the county’s main centre for library and museum services. It was gratifying to see that there was still a vision for the future to be set out in the presentation to be made by Mr J Faulkner and Mr. J. Hitchin, chairman and secretary of HLUG. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain some idea of the views of the public on possible options for the future of the service and in particular of the Broad Street building.

Messrs Faulkner and Hitchin then gave a powerpoint presentation showing examples of what had been done in other parts of the country and abroad and what should and possibly could be done to provide Hereford with a suitable central Library and Museum building fit for a 21st century service.

Mr. William McMorran explained the ways in which the present building, with its listed frontage including the Woolhope Room could be completely re-fashioned internally to produce a 21st century facility.

Lady Falkiner explained the difficulties faced by libraries and cultural services in towns and settlements in a sparsely populated county like Herefordshire. It was important in formulating any plans to bear in mind the needs of all Herefordians and all the county library support groups had come together to form JAHL Joint Action for Herefordshire Libraries to progress these plans.

Cllr. Morgan explained the difficult choices faced by Herefordshire Council and emphasised its obligation to remedy the pressing immediate problems with the Broad Street building. This left the Council with even less room for manoeuver than was the case only four months ago, nor was there any likelihood of reduction in the pressure faced by Council on account of the needs of other services in the county. Nevertheless, Council had proposed the setting aside of the sum of £0.9m to cover the immediate works and possible future improvements to Broad Street.

Cllr Powers agreed that lack of planned expenditure on the infrastructure of cultural services had helped to precipitate the present difficulties. It was not easy to influence the development of strategy with the present governance arrangements in Herefordshire Council. He had much sympathy with our campaign for better and more modern facilities in Broad Street and was inspired by the vision set out in the HLUG presentation. The people certainly deserved better than the present offering.

(Mr. Norman took some questions from the floor, but had to leave for another appointment at 7.30pm. The remainder of the meeting was chaired by Mr. Faulkner, )

The discussion was very lively, with many points being raised from the floor. Among these were the following:

The apparent lack of an overall policy and strategy for cultural services in Herefordshire.

It was noted that there were some outstanding achievements, not only the invaluable and comprehensive Museum Resource Centre, but also the truly modern and groundbreaking HARC building at Rotherwas. However, the service was noticeably deficient in other areas. There was no overall cultural strategy for the county and a cabinet member responsible for its production.-

The need to consider the future of the market for the services we are championing.

No businessman would consider the expenditure of so much planning and finance without carefully assessing the way the market was likely to develop. We had to consider the future role of cultural services as a whole in our communities and tailor our plans so as to deploy our resources to best effect. HLUG said they would be stressing the large and often hidden economic advantages that a Rankin centre could bring

It was not possible for a representative cross section of cultural services users to attend ameeting such as this.

Inevitably mothers with young children and many other groups wouldhave found attendance impossible. The scattered nature of Herefordshire communities also meant that similar meetings would be needed in several locations in order to obtain a better overview of public opinion. HLUG agreed and JAHL had a major role in this respect.

Most counties housed their central library, their museum and their art gallery each in its own building.

It seemed perverse to squeeze all three into a single building, already considered too small for at least one of these functions. HLUG pointed out that additional and better floor space would become available for all cultural activities and that provision of a new and separate library facility was not realistic in the present financial situation.

Finance

Sources of finance were questioned. HLUG said that seed finance for early development was thought to be available from Lottery and Arts Council sources. Fund raising for the capital works would require a major effort by the proposed project team to tap national and charity foundation sources.

Archaeology.

Had the fact that the building is located over an archaeologically rich area been considered and the possible delays this might cause? Mr McMorran explained that foundations would be piled ensuring minimum interference with archaeology.

The need to involve younger people.

HLUG agreed that this was vital and this would need further work along with many substantial matters that had to be resolved if the project was to proceed but the present objective was to gain agreement to this from public and council.

After much discussion, it was observed that matters appeared to boil down to a choice between the removal of asbestos from the building followed by correction of present maintenance problems at a cost of £90,000 so restoring the status quo ante with no real change to the building on the one hand, and on the other, exploring ways of achieving the vision of a completely renewed Broad Street Building. The latter would take some considerable time and finance and would necessitate the provision of an adequate temporary library. Possible location of this was not discussed. HLUG acknowledged that there were still many aspects to be considered such as setting up a project and fund raising organisation, future revenues, development of design and estimates etc.

A member of the Woolhope Naturalist Club observed that the first of the two choices above was to be preferred, as closure of the Broad Street building for a long period was in his view unacceptable.

One member of the audience observed that in view of the many uncertainties attending the financial and other aspects of the visionary scheme, it was unsafe to take a definitive vote on the choices above. Another member pointed out that as so many other interested groups could not be present at the meeting, only a ‘Straw poll’ of the views of those present should be taken.

Mr. Faulkner, chairman, called for a simple show of hands to determine how those present saw the choices. The result was very striking. The great majority – probably over 85% of those present raised their hands in support of the visionary scheme. Just two hands were raised against, and in favour of the status quo ante. The number of abstentions was small.

The chairman asked for any further questions, but none was forthcoming.

The meeting ended at 8.50 pm.

J B.L. Faulkner, Chairman HLUG.

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